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Well, she glides around the globe and she'll flimflam every nation She's a double-dealing diva with a taste for thievery Her itinerary's loaded up with moving violations Tell me, where in the world is... Carmen Sandiego?
Edutainment Game series created by now-defunct Brøderbund Software in 1985. The series became phenomenally successful in the 1990s, spawning no fewer than three television shows, two on PBS and one on Fox, then falling into obscurity shortly around the Turn of the Millennium before resurrecting around The New Tens, starting on FaceBook. The series is now owned by the Learning Company, which hasn't made a new Carmen Sandiego game since 2001, though it did license the character for Secret of the Stolen Drums, released in 2004 for home consoles.note There was a DS game released in 2009, see No Export for You in the Trivia tab. There probably have been plenty of games released, and Carmen just stole them all.The standard case involves an educational quest to find The Loot, The Warrant and The Crook.TV shows in the franchise include:
The Carmen Sandiego franchise provides examples of the following tropes:
Acme Products: Possibly parodied, as the name is given to a detective agency rather than a product.
Some versions combine this trope with the in game suffix "-Net." At default it's "Acme Crime-Net," but it could also be "Time-Net" and in the game show it was often used as ACME (fill in the blank) Net.
Affably Evil: And how! She steals all kinds of items, and it's implied that she's doing this primarily for the thrill of it, but she's given a fairly endearing personality.
All There in the Manual: In a rather strange variation, some of the background information for the Acme detectives introduced in Treasures of Knowledge appears in the manual for Secret of the Stolen Drums.
You wouldn't know one of the villains even had a Punny Name unless you read the manual, as he's only called The Baron in-game. Turns out his name is actually Baron Grinnit. Which explains why he's always smiling.
Justifiable in the sense that you are trying to find a culprit, so are gathering evidence to suggest where they went. Some clues make sense, such as they describe where the suspect is going, but other times it seems rather contrived, such as naming the country where something was invented or finding the birthplace of a celebrity.
Word Detective and Math Detective, which teach language arts and mathematics respectively, play it completely straight.
It could be said Treasures of Knowledge, Secret of the Stolen Drums, and the DS game do form one continuity as they share a few common characters and Carmen's backstory, but the games can be played without Continuity Lockout being an issue.
Art Shift: Has happened a few times. One of the most notable are word and math detectives, which make the series still have a rather cartoony look, but they look much Darker and Edgier compared to the earlier ones.
Awesome McCoolname: Carmen herself, for starters. Chase Devineaux from the Word Detective, Math Detective, and ThinkQuick Challenge games. Shadow Hawkins from Treasures of Knowledge is actually a subversion, the manual for Secret of the Stolen Drums reveals Shadow's real name is Shannon.
Canon Immigrant: Where on Earth established Carmen's Back Story as a former ACME detective, adopted by later games in the franchise.
Cardboard Prison: Extremely blatant: Carmen gets captured at the end of every computer game and maybe 30% to 50% of the time on the PBS game shows. Despite this, she's at large in the next game/episode. This also applies to many of the lesser villains.
Copy Protection: Horrible, horrible copy protection. Arguably some of the most frustrating of all time. You can play all you want, but to get promoted and even have a chance to capture Carmen, you have to enter certain words from certain pages of the included travel guides every few cases. Sound easy enough? Then remember that these games were incredibly common in schools...where the manuals would often get lost. And even the teachers couldn't exactly summon new copies of a travel guide (now often several years, if not a decade) out of date at will...
Where in Time... came with a hefty paperback desk encyclopedia in the box.
Ironically enough, the later CD games had no protection at all.
At least with World, the reference was an Almanac; most of the information in one of those can now be found on Wikipedia. Europe used an atlas and asked questions about what color country X on page Y was. USA what the last word on page Y of the Fodor's travel guide was. Have fun guessing!
Ditzy Genius: Hawkins from Treasures of Knowledge is certainly very smart, having graduated from the Acme academy at the top of his class. Compared to Jules, though, he's woefully inexperienced.
Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: According to her backstory in the 80's version, Carmen was one of these, obstensibly for the small country of Monaco, but she decided she liked crime more than espionage.
Early Installment Weirdness: Games made prior to 1990 had the sight of a hand firing a warning shot from a gun or a knife/axe tossed across the screen to let you know you were closing in on a thief. It comes off as relatively violent to people who played the later games that had more comical animations (eg. an alligator snapping its jaws at the player, or a spring-loaded boxing glove punching into view) at the end of a case.
Evil Gloating: Oh, how Carmen loves this. In any game where you receive messages from the Chief on a Video Phone, expect Carmen to occasionally break into your communications for gloating purposes.
Evil Luddite: In ThinkQuick Challenge, Snarla Swing's motive for stealing knowledge is her hatred of technology.
Expy: Most likely an unintentional example, but Ivan Idea from the v3.0 games/Great Chase, Ben from the junior novels, Shadow Hawkins from Treasures of Knowledge, and Adam Shadow from the DS game share similar traits with Zack from the cartoon (blonde-haired male detectives who happen to be tech-savvy). However, Adam borders on being not just an expy but also a Suspiciously Similar Substitute - not only does his default outfit◊ looks near identical to Zack's outfit◊, considering the DS game is set in the same continuity as Treasures of Knowledge, Shadow is nowhere to be seen.
The ACME Detective Agency sort of started off as a fictionalized version of Interpol. In fact, in the original versions of World and USA, the organization you worked for actually was Interpol.
There are also some non-Communism-related examples of Geography Marching On. It'd almost be impossible to count how many Carmen games show the World Trade Center towers in New York, but it's a lot (they're even in the opening credits of the Where on Earth cartoon). In the 1996 version of World, your location for Afghanistan is one of the Bamiyan Buddha statues, both of which were dynamited by the Taliban in 2001. When the name of a currency is given as a clue, it will be inaccurate for any country which has since adopted the Euro. And so on. A geography game just can't stay accurate forever, you know.
Guide Dang It: There are a few examples where they give a rather obscure hint that's not explained in-game because you're supposed to look in the guide book. The Facebook game justifies this because they know you're going to use Google.
Idiot Ball: All of the early games had Idiot Ball in the form of the battery-powered translator. With no spare batteries. Or, say, a charger.
Impossible Thief: She stole the galaxy! And probably nobody has any clue as how she did it because she stole that too...
Improbable Age: Both ACME and V.I.L.E. seem to regularly employ teenagers. Zack and Ivy of the Earth cartoon are fourteen and eighteen respectively. Patty Larceny, Sarah Nade, and Jacqueline Hyde are teenagers, though their exact ages are never specified. According to the user's manual included with the 1997 version of Where in Time, Ivan Idea is a "teenage whiz kid" and Polly Tix is "still too young to vote".
In-Universe Game Clock: In Where in the World v3.0, depending on the in-game clock (and time zone), if you stay long enough in a location you can watch the sky go from day to night and vice versa.
It Will Never Catch On: In the 1996 version of World, there are "good guides" who will give you a tour of your current locale. The tour of Moscow has Dee Plomassy singing the praises of the dawning era of democracy in Russia. In retrospect, her optimism about The New Russia seems just a bit premature.
It's a Small World After All: The clues you are given are about the entire country the crook went to rather than any specific place. Fortunately, knowing just the country is always enough to get you to another destination with more clues.
Handwaved in one of the re-releases of Where in the World... where you have to find the torch from the Statue of Liberty, even though you investigate San Francisco. The Chief mentions that it 'appeared seconds after the theft' in San Francisco. Oookay then...
Subverted in the Facebook game, the clues point to a specific city within a given country as some countries have multiple locations. The developersconfirmed the game was created with the mindset that people would use Google for the clues.
In the older games, clues intended to direct you to Moscow will sometimes mention places that were part of the U.S.S.R. at the time, but which are now independent of Russia.
Joker Immunity: She can be caught, but never held, no matter what version she appeared in. For example, the contestants in the game show captured her by winning, but that only lasted until the next show. It seems they've yet to make a jail strong enough to hold her.
Lady in Red: Carmen is never seen without her red coat, hat, and high heels.
Limited Animation: Treasures of Knowledge is a big, big offender. They made, like, five animations of Jules and Hawkins to reuse over and over again for the entire game. And they only sort-of try for lip sync.
Luck-Based Mission: In games made pre-1996, not every witness interviewed will yield characteristic traits of the suspect (hair color, vehicle, favorite food, etc.). It's possible to not have enough information to narrow down a suspect and issue a warrant at the time of the arrest even if you interviewed everyone during a case. This is especially problematic in early cases when there are fewer locations to travel and fewer witnesses to interview.
Medium Blending: In some of the games, Lynne Thigpen of the PBS game shows plays the Chief in live-action footage. But everyone else is a cartoon character. Try to figure that one out. Also, in some of the older games, the characters are cartoons running around in still photographs.
Nice Hat: She's never seen without her wicked-cool fedora.
No Name Given: The chief of Acme Detective Agency is unnamed beyond the title of Chief.
One series of Carmen Sandiego junior novels named the Chief Velma. She was made an aunt of one of the Kid Detectives and seems to have been loosely based on Lynne Thigpen's portrayal on the game show.
The Chief in the DS game was named Margaret O'Hara.
Pet the Dog: One episode of the Fox series establishes Carmen has a deep fondness for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, her favorite book as a kid. Of course, in that episode she's after the Smithsonian's pair of Dorothy's slippers...
Not to mention, the Fox series apparently states that Carmen doesn't want to hurt the ACME Detectives.
Pretty in Mink: Early boxart covers had Carmen wearing a dark-colored fur coat, with Where in the USA and Where in Europe being the most prominent examples. Carmen had a red fur coat on the original cover of Where in Time as well.
Product Placement: Back in 1998 there was an Amtrak-skinned version of Where in the USA, titled Where in America...The Great Amtrak Train Adventure. It basically added in Amtrak-themed clues and Amtrak-dressed cartoon employees as additional witnesses. It also included a promo advert for Amtrak in the in-game database.
Punny Name: Absolutely ubiquitous in the Brøderbund games; the Learning Company apparently didn't like them as much.
Just for fun, have a gander at the following baddie names from the Choose Your Own Adventure book Where In Space Is Carmen Sandiego?: Bea Miupscotti, Avery Littlebit Phelps, Morton U. Bargandfore, Kit Incaboodle, Astro Fizzix, and Hanover Fist.
For the Facebook game, it's initially subverted as most of the crooks have mundane names. It's played straight once you start solving the Hard cases that Punny Name criminals start showing.
Race Lift: Carmen is usually unambiguously Hispanic, but at times she has been changed to a paler skin tone. Arguably she just gets turned into a Mukokuseki type lighter skinned Hispanic though.
Recycled In Space: Where in Space Is Carmen Sandiego, naturally. Thankfully the game is a positive example of this trope because it was one of the best in the series.
Red Baron: Carmen's been referred to many times as the Queen of Crime, and less often as the Duchess of Thievery. But most of all, she's been called the "World's Most Notorious Thief".
Regional Riff: Used, often quite beautifully, in Treasures of Knowledge whenever Hawkins and Argent arrive in a new country.
Respawning Enemies: The elemental spirits in Secret of the Stolen Drums. Averted with Carmen's robots — any robots Cole has destroyed will remain destroyed, even if you saved, quit, and reload the game again.
Retcon: Lots of 'em. Most notably, Carmen's original Back Story had her being a former spy for the Intelligence Service of Monaco — don't expect that to show up in any game made after Czechoslovakia split up.
Right-Hand Cat: In Junior Detective and the 1996 versions of World and U.S.A., Carmen has a pet cat named Carmine. Sadly, we never see Carmen stroke Carmine in the usual villainous fashion (although Carmine being a ginger cat and Carmen always wearing red would create a terrible color clash).
Shout-Out: The Facebook game has a few, mostly to previous TV shows.
The Chief looks very much like Lynne Thigpen from the game shows, specifically Where in the World.
Carmen's wanted poster references lyrics from the theme song to the World game show.
While Carmen has yet to make an actual appearance, her characterization and described appearance from the various papers on the bulletin board and databases share similarities with how Carmen was portrayed on Where on Earth. Even the logo for the Facebook game looks similar to the logo from Where on Earth. Word of God has not confirmed this, though.
Step Three: Profit: 1. Steal huge national monuments/treasures/etc. 2. ??? (As far as is known, neither Carmen nor any VILE henchman, once having stolen something, have tried to ransom it back or sell it to fences, etc.) 3. Profit (It's been assumed Carmen does this for the thrills, but what about the VILE Henchmen? And how does VILE stay in business?)
Stock Footage: In the 1996 version of Where in the World, the in-game database includes some video clips, all composed of footage from old National Geographic specials.
In Word Detective and Math Detective, you teleport between various V.I.L.E. hideouts around the world (and one, from Math Detective, in outer space) to find the games needed to unlock the Plot Coupons.
Surrounded by Idiots: V.I.L.E. seems to be stocked with complete idiots; given a Hand Wave in one of the game manuals, which said that Carmen has a soft spot for people less capable than herself.
Time Police: Whole point of Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? and Where in America's Past as well.
Time Travel: Where in Time and America's Past, obviously, and there were time machines in Where on Earth.
Tomboyish Name: Subverted with Jules. One clue Carmen left behind addressed Jules as Julia in Treasures of Knowledge. This actually caused a Dub Name Change in the DS game.explanation The developer of the DS game, Strass Productions, is French. Jules is the male French form of "Julius", as in Jules Verne.
Unwinnable by Design: If you spend too much time going to the wrong places, before you figure out some of the more obscure hints (Especially in the later cases where there is almost no room for errors), you'll run out of time or battery power.